What to Do When You’re Lost Without a Compass

Movie after movie shows characters getting lost in the woods and using the “moss” trick to get out.  “Oh, just check the moss and see which side of the tree it’s growing on. That’ll tell us the way to go!”  Not so much, especially in an area like Salt Spring with such vast land.  You really should have packed a compass, but if you didn’t, or if something happened to it, here’s what to do:

Start walking down.  Civilization is much more likely to be at the base of a mountain and the edge of the woods, then at the top.  You may be able to get a more clear view from a higher elevation, but it’s also colder and more dangerous as possible shelter dwindles.  Walk down hill if you can.

If there’s a stream, creek, or river nearby, follow it.  Every natural steam starts and ends somewhere, and while you may be walking for a while, you’ll find the inlet or outlet eventually, which usually isn’t far from a town or people living in the area.  And, of course, you know what to do when you find them.

Another thing you can do is figure out the direction you’re facing.  This can be done very simply with a stick, as long as there’s some sun.  If possible, get out of the shade, or into an open spot with sun and stand a stick upright on the ground.  Note which way the shadow forms; that direction is west.  Assuming you have a general idea of the land layout where you went, you now know which way to walk to get out.

The last major trick is using the stars.  We suggest getting out of the woods because nightfall to avoid a whole different set of problems (mainly animals), but once the stars are out, look for the big dipper.  The right side of the big dipper points toward the north, so envision an arrow pointing from the bottom of the pot to the top.  Knowing that direction would mean that west if left and east is right, again giving you the direction to get out.

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